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Sunday, March 19, 2006

A Platonic Dialogue

Socrates attempts a first lesson on philosophy with the amateur philosopher (TAP)

Disclaimer: TAP refers to me and has nothing to do with "The American Prospect" which is a wonderful outstanding institution which has no reason at all to sue me for either libel or slander whichever it is.

Socrates: What is philosophy ?

TAP: I don’t know.

Socrates: Well try to reason by elimination. Tell me something which isn’t philosophy.

TAP: my left foot isn’t philosophy.

Socrates: OK let me give you a hint, philosophy is a Scienza (valid form of intellectual inquiry).

TAP: So Philosophy is Scienza (valid intellectual inquiry) ?

Socrates: I told you to reason by elimination. Are Newton’s laws of motion philosophy ?

TAP: no they aren’t because they can be tested by an experiment.

In fact the experiment shows that the third law (f=ma) is false because it asserts that m is a constant which does not vary as we push an object and cause it’s velocity relative to us to change and we push and push and it doesn’t go as fast as light relative to us because as it’s relative velocity increases in magnitude it’s apparent mass to us increases approaching infinity as the magnitude of the relative velocity approaches c.

Socrates: Why are you writing so many words when a simple equation would do ?

TAP: I don’t know. Maybe that’s philosophy. I mean maybe philosophy is writing a bunch of words when a few simple formulas would do.

Socrates: No that is not philosophy. That is blogger. You get what you pay for and you paid zero and don’t get an equation editor.

TAP: So philosophy is scienza. Philosophy is not my left foot, science, or blogger. Am I making progress ?

Socrates: You really want to leave the questions to me. So Newton’s laws of motion are not philosophy because they have been proven false by an experiment. Once you get to a question which can be answered by observation or experiment you have finished doing the philosophy and moved on.

TAP: so getting to a question which you can answer by observation or experiment is philosophy.

Socrates: I told you to leave the questions to me.
Hemlock I can handle. Trying to converse with you is getting to be a challenge.
In a word no. That is not philosophy, that is scientific theory also known as the development of testable hypotheses. I know you have no clue as to how it is done, but I ask you again What is philosophy.

TAP: I’m trying.

Socrates: Very goog, that didn’t get us anywhere, but at least it wasn’t a question. So Newton also wrote things which aren’t false because they aren’t testable. Calculus is not a false hypothesis, because it is not a hypothesis. Is calculus philosophy ?

TAP: well no it is mathematics. I mean in mathematics you have axioms and stuff. In philosophy you don’t have axioms. In math you can prove things once you choose axioms. You can’t use mathematical techniques to answer questions without axioms and mathematical answers are statements about an axiom system and not about anything else.

Socrates: Well you aren’t too bright TAP but at least you understand something which I never managed to explain to that dumb jock Plato who hasn’t accomplished anything since the Olympics.
So philosophy is neither science nor math and is a valid form of inquiry not based on evidence or axioms. So is Jesus Christ your favorite philosopher.

TAP: No he’s a God I mean the one true God one of the three one true Gods.

Socrates thinks: “ after all hemlock actually has a nice taste, like parsnips, but maybe I better just let that stuff about 1=3 pass”

Socrates: OK so a philosopher God can’t exist. Why ?

TAP: Well a God can make things true. He doesn’t have to look for truth.

Socrates: And can God guide a philosopher ?

TAP: Well no. That would be a miracle. Philosophers don’t use evidence or axioms and they don’t have access to revealed truth.

Socrates: What if a belief about God guides you. Are you a philosopher ?

TAP: No that is religion. It is based on faith. Philosophy is not based on faith.

Socrates: So philosophy is valid reasoning not based on facts, axioms, miracles or faith. Now do you know what philosophy is ?

TAP: No now I’m not even sure philosophy is anything at all.

Socrates: Don’t panic. Just give me an example of philosophy. That will prove that it exists.

TAP: There is no such thing as philosophy. There is no valid reasoning which is not based on evidence axioms miracles or faith.

Socrates: Finally You got it.
Yes that statement is philosophy, and, in particular logical positivism.

You still don’t know what it is, but at least you have proven that it must exist. Your last statement is philosophy. If it is true then it is a truth which we have discovered without evidence, axioms, miracles or faith so philosophy exists and it is false. If it is false then philosophy exists. So philosophy exists and it is valid reasoning which is not science mathematics or religion.

Oh and by the way, don’t quit your day job.

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